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“What does the data say?”

I was in a discussion the other day with a digital media guru, who kept saying things like, “well, the data says…,” and “we have to listen to what the data says….”

Here’s a clue for you. Data doesn’t say anything. Data doesn’t speak. You can listen all day long for the data to tell you what to do…for the data to make your decision for you…for the data to design your strategy for you…for the data to sell your product for you…for the data to make the coffee and change the baby. It’s not going to happen.

Back in the 1970s, when the PC was becoming a thing, and when LOTUS 1-2-3 introduced the first, widely-available spreadsheet software, there was something of a revolution in the way businesses ran. Suddenly, we could look at data differently than we had ever been able to. We could reorganize data with the click of a mouse. We could run scenarios. Suddenly, the spreadsheet became the core of MBA curricula. And MBAs (with their mastery of spreadsheets) became the core of middle management.

People (even not-terribly-bright people) started to go far by saying things like, “I’ll throw it into a spreadsheet and that’ll tell us what to do.”

Today, we have digital-media geniuses. People who have mastered Google analytics. People who can give you a “data-rich” report on just about traffic to any particular page. They can take a quick glance at their tablets, yammer off some data, and then declare that “the data says….”

The problem is that any two people, listening to the same data, can hear it saying diametrically opposite things. Is the data fickle? Does it believe different things. Is it just sucking up, by saying different things to different people. Well, no. The answer is much simpler than that…


The fact is, decisions are still made by people. People with brains, experience, and risk tolerance. Now, there’s no doubt that we have more data available to us today than ever before. And the data certainly helps us make better decisions. But to say, “the data says…” is no more legitimate than, “my gut says….”

Decisions are made by people. Stop using data as a crutch. Stop using data as an excuse. Stop blaming dimwitted decisions on “the data.”

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